Howard Dean Is Not A TV Show

Now that Governor Dean is a front-runner, the press is spinning its conventional wisdom that he is a creation of the Internet. This is more of their just not getting it.

Saying that the Internet is behind Dean’s popularity is like saying that Jerry Brown’s 1992 grassroots surge was due to his having an 800 number. Dean’s popularity comes from a public hungry for a leader who will take on Bush and the right, challenge the lies, and fight for them against the terrible right-wing assault that is going on.

My experience has been that people see Dean’s speech to the California Democratic Convention, and they immediately are a Dean supporter. That is not because of the Internet, it is because of the appeal of finally knowing that there is a leader who is on their side. Watch the speech. (Watch it again, it’s just great every time.) Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren wrote that “Quite a few of the delegates actually cried as they heard him speak.” THAT is why people are supporting Dean – because of what he says and what he stands for.

Gov. Dean’s campaign is not the usual Washington-based political phenomenon, which leaves many in the “establishment” bewildered. It is an honest grassroots campaign. His appeal is that he seems to understand what is happening in the country, wants to do something about it, and is not “spinning” what he says in an attempt to appeal to some imagined “voting block.” There is no sense of a “wink and a nod” as the candidate says something that everyone is supposed to understand he does not really mean, but is saying it so he can get elected. That’s how the “game” is supposed to be “played”, but he just isn’t going along with that. I had met both Gore and Clinton, as well as been to events, and there was a bit of a sense of understanding that there are some things they were saying because they have to, to get elected. Not that it was a bad thing – more of a feeling of a necessary evil. But I have NO sense of that with Dean, yet I come away with a feeling that he CAN (and will) get elected.

The cynical mainstream media and politicos say that Dean has “veered left” (as if an A rating from the NRA is a mark of a “leftist.”) They say he is “positioning” himself to the left for the primaries, and will “move to the right” for the election. They can not comprehend a candidate who is not spinning, not positioning, not “portraying himself as…,” and not saying what he needs to say instead of what he thinks. And they cannot seem to cope with a candidate who can’t easily be pigeonholed with a label, like “leftist.” Dean’s supporters understand that it’s not about being a “leftist” or a progressive to say you support “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” – it’s about caring about your country, and wanting to stand up and challenge the corporate takeover, and the bush intimidation tactics, and the reluctance to exercise oversight responsibilities, and wondering why the leadership has been compromising with Bush on so many important issues!

The establishment also cannot grasp the possibility that Gov. Dean chooses his positions by analyzing the merits of the issues instead of looking at how his answer will make him “appear.” So many in the Washington establishment just don’t understand this because they are so used to looking for (and using) the gimmick, the “real” agenda, and they can’t believe and won’t accept that there could be a candidate who isn’t doing that. It is outside of their experience. It is not something that is in their worldview.

Why are they so blind to what’s really going on? I think because of the nature of their position in the media or the political structure they are in a controlled-perception zone. The right has put a great deal of effort into controlling the information environment of these people, because of their position as opinion leaders and their ability to influence legislation. The right knows how to generate “conventional wisdom” and project it to the right people. I wrote about this in Getting Rolled and I think it is a good read to help understand the Washington environment.

The phony Republican news events, the “independent” media playing along & following their script, the AM radio 24-hour-a-day Republican drumbeat pounding out the lies, the slurry of misleading or blatantly deceitful op-ed pieces filling the editorial pages, the dittohead letters to the editor (or “astroturf” – phony grassroots letters generated by a marketing firm), the pack of columnists writing according to instructions FAXed over from the Heritage Foundation ) […], pretty soon all the news stories reflect the Republican line and repeat the Republican falsehoods.

It becomes a drumbeat of constant repetition of the same lines over and over and over until they become “conventional wisdom.” “Everybody knows that” so-and-so is true so there’s no point wasting your energy trying to say it ain’t so. Polls then show that the public (deprived of any contrasting information) solidly favors the Republican position. Calls and letters flood in to Congressional offices (from Christian Coalition phone banks). Democrats start to worry about their chances of holding office if they oppose the Republicans on this one vote.

Manipulate their information sources and you control what they perceive.

So many of the Washington establishment gets their information secondhand instead of being out here where the people are, and listening to what people are saying. When you live your life through the filter of the media world you come to accept the premises of that world as the premises of life. This leads to a simplified way of looking at the world, with a need to place everything in a stereotyped category. Experiencing the rest of America through the TV brings acceptance of the premises of TV – everyone is playing a part, everything follows a preset script, everyone fits neatly into casting department view of how people behave.

Well Howard Dean is not a TV show! Get used to it.